January 11, 2008

Students puzzled by MAC deposit returns

When fourth-year Liz Milsark returned to her apartment after the month-long winter interim, an unexpected letter was waiting for her in her building’s mailbox. Milsark was among the tenants of MAC Property Management who received letters informing them that their security deposits were being refunded.

Milsark said she has been renting from MAC since the beginning of the last academic year and received a full refund on her $1,500 deposit plus interest. However, for Milsark, the refund was not a cause for celebration or renewed hopes for the upcoming year.

“I’m still not clear on exactly what’s going on,” Milsark said.

She added that the letter from MAC also notified her that she was exempt from paying rent for the next month and a half.

“I’m going to request a ledger to figure out what’s up. We must have posted some January payment before they wrote the letter or something. Even what appears to be a conciliatory gesture still ends in me trekking down to the office to figure it out,” she said.

The refund and accompanying letter also confounded Amanda Machin, a fourth-year classics and political science major, who called a MAC representative to clarify the issue.

“The staff member I spoke with said that they had switched to a new system, which required new residents to pay a move-in fee instead of a security deposit,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they also wanted to improve their public image, but I think it’s mostly because of the new system.”

“Toward the middle of the end of November we stopped accepting security deposits from new residents.... Instead, we are implementing a non-refundable move-in fee which is far less costly than the original security deposit,” explained a representative from MAC’s Chicago management office in a phone interview with the MAROON. The representative declined to provide a name for print.

The deposit refunds have left many MAC residents, including Milsark and Machin, unsure about their standing with the management company.

Machin said that she does not expect the refunds to usher in any significant service or policy changes for current tenants.

“This is not a turning point. I still have a light in my building’s hallway that has been out for months. I don’t think that having my security deposit will fix that or any of the other problems in my apartment,” she said.

On the other hand, Milsark is more hopeful—but only slightly.

“I’m hoping that this signifies the end of the ridiculous eviction threats,” she said, citing a recent incident when MAC misplaced her rent payment for the month. MAC began charging Milsark late fees and eventually issued an eviction notice with a court date.

“It’s possible that this is an empty PR gesture but what I’m hoping is that it means they got their computer system sorted out and hired enough new people to make it run properly. As soon as I got back from break, I put in a work order for our broken bathroom sink and a fourth or fifth request for a smoke detector. We’ll see.”

The representative from MAC’s Chicago office declined to talk about the long-term effects the new management policy might have for current residents.

“We have returned the security deposits. We are no longer handling them,” he said.

Since MAC acquired K&G Management in April last year, many University students and Hyde Park residents have bemoaned the quality of its customer service and the safety of its buildings. Various Facebook groups affiliated with the U of C network have cropped up in recent months lambasting MAC for its poor management. Discussion boards of groups named “Why Yes, I Too Have Threatened MAC With Legal Action!” and “MAC Property Management is a huge disappointment” are filled with woes and rants of tenants past and present.

And while many residents surmise that MAC’s poor management is compounded by the effects of a bad business acquisition, neither Machin nor Milsark find the company purposely vindictive.

“I think that MAC’s staff is generally very friendly and tries to be helpful whenever possible. It seems that there is simply not a good organization behind the staff to help them get things done,” Machin said.

Milsark echoes Machin’s sentiments. “I’ve still found that when you actually go in and talk to them they are very friendly and helpful,” she said. “But everything that shows up in the mail is impersonal and opaque.... Even the latest notice, while generally a positive thing for tenants, is extreme and untimely,” she added.